Terry McAteer: The Three B’s: Baseball, Biking & Brews
With the “Dog Days of Summer” upon us, what could be more appropriate than a good baseball story?
Whether you’re an avid baseball fan like me or you just know the game but think it’s too slow, baseball is imbedded in our soul.
As the literary genius Walt Whitman noted, “Well — it’s our game; that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game: it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws, is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”
I grew up idolizing Mays, McCovey, Davenport and Cepeda; hating the Dodgers, as Candlestick was my “field of dreams.” I attended 61 of the 82 home games in 1971 and in 2010 sobbed with joy when the Giants finally won the World Series.
These last two seasons, my childhood buddy, Jim, and I have been on a mission to visit all of the ballparks in the country calling our week to 10 day trip “Baseball, Biking and Brew.” We attend a home game, bike around town, visit a few local breweries to chat with the locals, take in an historic or cultural site and then move on to the next baseball town.
We decided to begin our “Three B” trips in the heartland where baseball is adored: you know, the “flyover” states. Us West Coasters and our fellow East Coasters usually have few reasons to go to Cleveland, Kansas City, Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. Most West Coast baseball fans know these cities specifically as home to the Indians, Royals, Tigers, Cardinals, Reds or Pirates, as we don’t know much else about them. In these polarizing days, we often refer to them as red states while we live in the land of blue. Often our twains never meet except at the baseball diamond.
Riding a bike around town, attending a game to chat with local fans and drinking a local brew at a pub gets you in conversations with locals. We talk baseball, politics, beer, politics, California and some more politics. One takeaway is that despite being the “left coast,” California is still a magical place to most Midwesterners. They envy our climate, our beaches and most would love to escape to the Golden State despite what they hear on Fox News. The reason for their longing is the Midwest is hurting. It’s easy to see the appeal of Donald Trump when you bike through cities like Detroit and the rural countryside towns in Ohio and Missouri. The affluence and glitz of Silicon Valley, Manhattan, Hollywood, Boston and even our own Nevada County has passed them by and they know it.
One day we biked from Kansas City to Harry Truman’s hometown in Independence, Missouri to visit his home and the presidential museum. We had a root beer at Clinton’s, where “Give-em Hell Harry” worked as a teenager, and chatted with two soda “jerks” who manned the fountain.
“Our town is dying,” said one, as there is “nothing to do in town.”
A bike ride through echoed their concerns with vacant storefronts and a feeling of death and despair. In fact, a casket retail shop was right in the center of town displaying different models through the large plate glass window. It helped epitomize the feeling of many small towns we passed in Middle America.
Another day we rode our bikes 60 miles along the Monongahela River on the Allegheny Bike Trail to Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Connellsville was once the most thriving coal town in the country and boasted more millionaires per capita than any other city in America. Now the town is poor and stuck in the opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing many rural Midwest communities.
In Marion, Ohio we stopped to tour Warren Harding’s home. We were the only visitors that morning and our tour guide nearly passed out when she learned we were from California.
“What are you doing here?” she exclaimed.
This was probably the 20th time we’d heard this, as if to say … “Why would any Californian leave your state to visit us?”
We came away loving the people of the Midwest and realizing that we have a shared responsibility to work towards the betterment of our entire country. We are not red or blue. We are all Americans and, if nothing else, baseball binds us together.
By the way, for you baseball fans, our picks include: Best Stadium in the Midwest: PNC Park in Pittsburgh (except for the iconic Wrigley Field, where we saw the Giants beat the Cubs); Best Hotdog: Kansas City; Best Biking Towns: Cincinnati and Minneapolis; Best Local Spirit: the residents of Detroit; Most Loyal & Intelligent Fans: St. Louis; Biggest Beer Vending Booth (the size of a tennis court): Cincinnati; Best Scoreboard: Cleveland; Best Non-Baseball town in the Midwest: Madison, Wisconsin; and the Best Local Brewery (with delicious fried cheese curds): Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee.
Yes, our tour continues next year. We’re doing the flyover to see the Nationals, Orioles, Phillies, Mets and Yankees. As baseball great Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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